Two lions of our community announced their retirements recently.
Both Madison Gas and Electric CEO Gary Wolters and CUNA Mutual Foundation Executive Director Steve Goldberg are important business players whose leadership skills will be missed by the entire community.
They are also two friends who have offered me their insights, support and honesty over the years.
Steve and Gary both, in their own ways, helped to support transformation in Madison. When we started Madison365 nearly a year and a half ago, they were literally the first two people I went to for investment. I went to them first because I knew they would give it to me straight, but they would also give me a chance to explain my vision and demonstrate why I thought the community needed Madison365. Both had their questions and concerns. But both stepped up.
On the surface, that may seem like no big deal. But sadly, in a city that preaches empowerment and tolerance, the powerbrokers rarely step up to support an organization led by and focused on people of color. To support something like that means a sacrifice of power.
So I knew what I was asking. I was asking both Gary and Steve to step outside their comfort zones, to go out on a limb for me, and for Madison365, and for Madison’s communities of color. And many years of experience told me they’d be willing to help out.
I will never forget the time I sat down with Gary and his executive team nearly 15 years ago, telling them why they should donate to MAGNET, the first young professional organization in Madison. I also explained how he should help support a small business program for women and minorities as well as the regional economic development authority that would become MadREP. Those were all new and innovative ideas at the time. Gary stepped up and committed a total of over $100,000 to those initiatives. His investment was a good one; from those projects sprung others, like the the Madison Network of Black Professionals and Upstart. I mean what CEO would give a snot-nose kid facetime with them, let alone take a chance.
I will never forget the time more recently that Steve and I spent more than an hour talking about the history of Madison, how much has changed, how much hasn’t. We talked about the people who’ve come and gone and left real impacts — people like Eugene Parks. Of course I knew Steve was committed to Madison, but in that conversation I gained a whole new appreciation for his commitment to all of Madison — including communities of color. And while we were at it, he gave me invaluable advice about expanding and protecting my personal brand, and how to follow in his footsteps as a community leader. Again I ask, how many people in his position would be so generous with their time and social capital?
In light of these two Madison legends stepping aside, I can’t help but look around and realize I have other friends on the brink of a transition out of the limelight and into new phases of life. People rarely get the recognition they should while they are doing it. So shout out to Channel 3 and Madison Magazine executive editor Neil Heinen for always being the ambassador for all of Madison. Shout out to Forward Community Investments CEO Salli Martyniak who is putting action behind progressive thinking and diversifying her board of directors and helping social and in racial inequities head on. Shout outs also to Mayor Paul Soglin and Deputy Mayor Enis Ragland for always being the consummate professionals; Umoja Publisher Milele Chikasa for being so unapologetically pro-black and pro-business; former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk for being so pro-women; Juan Jose Lopez for always keeping the Latino needs at the forefront of conversations; community center executive directors Tom Moen and Tom Solyst, two men who have served communities in need for decades; Madison Alder (and member of every board in town) Shiva Bidar, who is still young in life but seasoned beyond her years, for advocating for people in need even outside of her own ethnicity and race; former Congressman Scott Klug, a Republican who never apologized for being a Republican but put people first; Judge Paul Higginbotham, a man who always worked quietly behind the scenes for people of color; Wisconsin Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen for showing the black community being a successful business owner is possible; Dane County Equal Opportunity Commission Director Isadore Knox and Pastor David Smith for advocating and championing the South Side for so long …. and to legends of the city of Madison Gary Wolter and Steve Goldberg…take a bow. Well done.
Retirement does not mean an end, of course. I look forward to learning what is just beginning for Steve and Gary and their community. I know both of these friends will go on to other pursuits using their smarts and hearts to make our community a better place.